Newsletter 2016-3 December 1, 2016


As this Newsletter arrives, we are happy to report on another season of activity and achievements of our faculty and especially our graduate students who continue to compete well for fellowships, research accomplishments and securing fine postdocs and jobs.

We hope you will continue your generosity and we highlight below some of the benefits that your past generous contributions have conferred on our worthy and grateful graduate students. Please make sure to get in your contributions by years's end (see links below). Your contributions are tax deductible and if you are over 70.5 years of age, your IRA can be used tax free to make contributions directly to our graduate student funds.

All the best for a Happy Holiday Season and Intersession!

Please send any alumni news for the next newsletter to Jeff Levinton.

Honors, Awards, Events, Passages

Laura R. Botigué, a postdoc in Brenna Henn's lab for the past 3 years and Beatriu de Pinós Programme Fellow, has just accepted a position as the research Bioinformatician for the PAFTOL project (Plant and Fungal Trees of Life) at Kew Gardens, England.

E&E Assistant Professor Krishna Veeramah's work on paleogenomics of European human population movements following the fall of the Roman  Empire is reported in TBR News Media . With colleagues, Veeramah is using genomic  data acquired from individuals in many ancient graveyards in the 5th and 6th centuries to infer the  migrations that might have occurred during this important period of time. These data are a crucial complement to other archeological studies.

Ehab Abouheif
Ehab Abouheif, student of Gregory Wray, has been designated by the Royal Society of Canada as a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. This honor was accorded to just seven young scholars in Canada. 

Phil Dustan, student of Larry Slobodkin in the 1970s has been working actively on coral reef ecology in the face of climate change and is a Professor of Biology at the the College of Charleston. He reports "This summer I witnessed the greatest rate of change in a coral reef community in my career of over 45 years documenting reef change in the Caribbean. But Bali, where I've been working since 2010 takes the prize for greatest rate of change due to climate induced environmental impacts."

Chris Noto, student of Catherine Forster and Jeff Levinton and now a faculty member at University of Wisconsin Parkside, was awarded a Conservation Trust Grant from the National Geographic Society to support his work studying and preserving  a fossil locality called the Arlington Archosaur Site, located outside Dallas.

Peter Petraitis student of Jeff Levinton and faculty member at Penn had his work on alternative stable states featured in this NSF video.

Doug Futuyma was recently a principal speaker at a Royal Society meeting on the future of evolutionary biology
Doug Futuyma at Royal Society Conference

Catherine Foley, student of Heather Lynch, was among just a handful of US students selected and supported to participate in a 25 day marine sciences cruise  as part of the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition leaving this November. This is an amazing opportunity to learn from the very best in Antarctic science, including researchers from 30 countries, and to sail on the first leg of a historic circumpolar science cruise.

Heather Lynch was selected for a fascinating interview for the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science series, Science on Tap, which was held at a bar in Stony Brook with a packed audience. 
Heather Lynch interviewed by Steve Reiner of the Alda Center
Steve Reiner interviews Heather Lynch for
Science on Tap

Shyamie Gopalan, Ph.D. student of Brenna Henn, received a National Institute of Justice (DoJ) Graduate Research Fellowship, a full fellowship that will fund the remainder of her Ph.D. dissertation work to understand patterns of methylation and aging in diverse human populations. Congratulations to Shyamie!

Fred Vencl was named Research Associate, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian, Washington, DC.

Liliana Davalos' work on deforestation was covered by Mongabay.

Ross Nehm was keynote speaker at the European Researchers in the
Didactics of Biology (ERIDOB) in Sweden in September.

Jeff Levinton's Marine Biology web page has advice for young marine biologists that has reached over 1.3 million hits. It has been translated into six languages.

Maria Rosa, recently arrived as an NSF Postdoc working with Dianna Padilla, organized a cleanup at Flax Pond, to aid in shoreline sustainability,  Saturday Nov. 19th. Over a dozen people participated and a dumpster's worth of trash was collected from the Marsh. 

Your Contributions Do So Much!

In this ever tightening time for research funding, our friends and alumni do so much by supporting our Graduate Student Research Funds. The Lawrence B. Slobodkin fund supports graduate student research in ecology. The Robert R. Sokal fund supports studies in evolution and biometry. The George C. Williams fund supports research in behavior and evolutionary studies. Your contributions have funded many students this past year. Here are a few vignettes.

Laurel Yohe, George C. Williams Award

This year, my award supported my attendance of multiple conferences this
Laurel Yohe
Laurel Yohe
summer to present my dissertation work. As a student of Dr. Liliana Dávalos, I study the molecular evolution of a curious sensory system in bats that primarily detects pheromones, known as vomerolfaction. As a fifth year PhD student, this was a priceless opportunity to highlight my research on several prestigious platforms. This showcase of my work has opened up many connections to future collaborators and allowed me to receive helpful feedback from multiple audiences. I started off my journey at the Evolution meetings in Austin, TX. I competed for the Ernst Mayr student award talk, giving me the chance to stand out and present my work at a large conference. Austin was great because of the great bat exodus from under the bridge! I also had the opportunity to meet lots of great E&E alumni at the Evolution reunion. The next stop was at the meeting of the American Society of Mammalogists in Minneapolis, as the Anna M. Jackson student plenary speaker. This talk was highlighted on "The Molecular Ecologist" and a filmed version of the talk is available online. Finally, I ended at the International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology (ICVM) in Washington DC. Here, I was invited to speak as part of a symposium on diceCT, a new method of identifying soft tissues from specimens using μCTscanning. I have been working in collaboration with people from the Stony Brook Anatomical Sciences department to use diceCT to identify the vomeronasal organ in bats. ICVM exposed me to many new disciplines that I had not yet encountered and it was great to interact with scientists from a new field. Again, I would like to thank the Williams award for providing a critical portion of funding to these summer travels. All were invaluable experiences to my career development and I feel my work on the selective forces that shape vomerolfaction in bats is one that Dr. Williams would enjoy.

Elise Lauterbur, Robert R. Sokal Award

The Sokal Award for Research in Statistical Biology is one I value highly. I have received it twice, once to support my attendance of the Summer Institute of Statistical Genetics, and this year to allow me to travel to present my work at an
Elise Lauterbur observing lemurs in Madagascar
international conference. Attending such workshops and significant conferences has been very important in working toward my degree, and this Award has been instrumental in allowing me to do so. As a result I have established collaborations with well-known researchers based on the strength of my own work. This award has helped me to expand my education and connections beyond the department and is helping me to establish myself as a researcher who is carefully applying statistical analyses to answer interesting biological questions.

Anusha Shankar, Lawrence B. Slobodkin Award

I have received the Slobodkin award twice from the department; the first time was in my first year, when the money helped me go to my field sites in Arizona and Ecuador for the first time, and get acquainted with my study system before I had any other grant money to speak of. The second was last year, my fourth year, to go to the field and fittingly, wrap up my last field season. 

I study hummingbird field physiology in the Ecuadorian Andes, and how hummingbirds manage their daily energy budgets. These funds have been crucial in my studies of torpor and energetics in hummingbirds. My field work is equipment- and field assistant- intensive, and every little bit of money really helps! 

I think these departmental grants have served many purposes for me and others who have get them. The most obvious is the they give us money to do our
Anusha Shankar with hummingbirds in Ecuador
research. The second is that getting these grants looks great on our CV- proof that we can write proposals and get money! The proposal process instills both the practice and the confidence in writing and winning grants. The earlier you start writing grant proposals, the better, and it's hard to get external grants when you have yet to crystallize your research proposal. Students just entering grad school are full of insecurities and often face severe cases of the imposter syndrome, so winning a grant, however small, is a great confidence-booster. The final reason is that winning a grant from, and being acknowledged by, your department, brings you undeniably closer to the research community you are surrounded by every day. Superficial as it may be, it has been proven by psychologists repeatedly that public appreciation boosts confidence and makes people strive harder to do better. The impact of these departmental grants is thus invaluable, and your contribution makes a big difference to budding ecologists! 

Maureen Lynch, Lawrence B. Slobodkin Award

Receiving the Slobodkin award in 2016 has helped me to collect data for one of my dissertation chapters. Since 2013 I have been collecting bioacoustics data on gentoo penguins at the Kansas City Zoo, and wanted to expand to other zoos with gentoo penguin populations. The Slobodkin award provided funds to travel to the Detroit Zoo in June and the Central Park Zoo in both June and July, as well as associated equipment maintenance costs. Data from these zoos have provided a comparison to data collected at the Kansas City Zoo, and will help me to analyze how gentoo penguin vocal behavior changes over time in newly formed colonies. This work on captive penguins compliments my work on geographic variation in wild penguins in Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands.
Maureen Lynch at the Detroit Zoo
Maureen Lynch at Detroit Zoo

Thank you so much for considering this! See the contribution panel below.

Alumni and friends we hope you remember how important an early financial boost was in your graduate research. 
Please  donatedonate to the Lawrence Slobodkin Fund for Ecological Research.
Give to the George Williams Fund for Student Research. Donate Now
Give to Ecology and Evolution Award for Student Excellence. Donate Now

How much? Suggested donations. Full professors: >= $250, Associate Professors: >= $100, Assistant Professors and Postdocs: >= $50 Please get used to giving annually. We need your help. Thanks so much!!
Bob Thacker Leads Training Course in Systematics

     Taxonomy, the science of finding, describing, and classifying organisms is the scaffolding on which all biological research is based. However, a shortage of taxonomic expertise continues to create serious limitations on our ability to understand and conserve global biodiversity. This "taxonomic impediment" is particularly large for marine organisms.  

Dr. Bob Thacker, Chairperson of Ecology & Evolution, received funding from the National Science Foundation's Advancing Revisionary Taxonomy and Systematics (ARTS) program to train a new, international generation of taxonomists by developing free, educational resources for learning taxonomy and systematics of sponges, tunicates, hydroids, sea anemones, nemerteans, and algae. 

The project, Bocas ARTS, is based at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's (STRI) Bocas Research Station (BRS), in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Dr. Rachel Collin, Director of the BRS, leads this collaborative effort, which involves five other taxonomists: Dr. Suzanne Fredericq (University of Louisiana at Lafayette; red algae); Dr. Maria Pia Miglietta (Texas A&M University; hydroids); Dr. Rosana Rocha (Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil; tunicates); Dr. Estefania Rodriguez (American Museum of Natural History; anemones); and Dr. Svetlana Maslakova (Oregon Institute of Marine Biology; nemerteans). 
In July, Bob led a month long, graduate-level course in the Taxonomy, Systematics, and Ecology of Caribbean Sponges, which included 14 students from 12 countries. Co-instructors for the course were Dr. Cristina Diaz (Nova Southeastern University) and Dr. Eduardo Hajdu (Museu Nacional, Brazil). Participants learned field identification techniques for common mangrove and reef species, as well as the laboratory skills needed to identify specimens based on their morphology. During the course, participants also conducted physiological experiments, field surveys, and their own independent projects. 

To address deficits in educational materials, Bob worked with scientific illustrator Meghan Rock to create new graphics to illustrate the anatomy, physiology, and ecology of sponges and with STRI videographer Ana Endara to produce a series of short videos teaching the basic skills required to identify sponges

One of the most innovative features of this project addresses the fact that taxonomic documentation of the world's biodiversity is an international endeavor. One of the greatest challenges in using taxonomic keys and other resources for identification is learning the complex vocabularies used to describe morphological features. English-speaking taxonomists may have difficulty understanding original species descriptions from the classical literature (often published in other European languages), while modern taxonomists are more frequently based in non-English speaking countries and yet recent literature is virtually entirely in English.  

The Bocas ARTS team is building a multi-language glossary for each focal grou
Cliona sponges
Cliona delitrix is a common bioeroding sponge at Bocas.
p of organisms. The primary goal of TaxaGloss is to enable researchers and students to access and share taxonomic information in multiple languages. TaxaGloss can be used to create an illustrated glossary in a single language or it can be used to create custom translation tables between different languages. The Bocas ARTS project also seeks to train professional taxonomists in new skills, such as using anatomy ontologies to represent morphological characters. By representing a character matrix as an ontology, researchers can enable computational reasoning across these characters and infer the state of characters that might be missing from a species description. In 2017, Bob will direct a workshop at the Smithsonian Institution on how to build ontologies and how to use them to more efficiently analyze morphological data sets.
Penguins and Citizen Scientists

     The Lynch Lab has just kicked off another Antarctic field season, and six Ph.D. students from Ecology & Evolution will be joining Prof. Lynch and one PhD student from Marine Sciences for a field season that will extend from November to March. Ongoing research projects include penguin bioacoustics, censes of abundance and distribution of Antarctic seabirds, and guano collection for studies of diet and stress. One of the most exciting projects underway, however, is actually being developed back in the lab and far from the icy drama of the Antarctic - a new NASA-funded decision support tool called the Mapping Application for Penguin Populations and Projected Dynamics (MAPPPD) in collaboration with Dr. Mathew Schwaller at NASA Goddard, and Oceanites

Heather Lynch with her penguins

MAPPPD includes data on the abundance and distribution of the four penguin species with substantial Antarctic breeding populations: the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), the Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae), the gentoo penguin (P. papua), and the chinstrap penguin (P. antarcticus). These data derive from direct ground surveys or aerial photographic surveys. However, MAPPPD will also include near real-time streaming data as obtained from satellite imagery, including both medium resolution sensors (e.g., Landsat) and high-resolution commercial sensors such as Quickbird and Worldview. The easy-to-use interface ensures that data are accessible and easily used by both the scientific and non-scientific Antarctic communities. The expected result is a flexible all-purpose tool for managing, interpreting, and visualizing the abundance and distribution of penguins in Antarctica. One of the most unusual aspects of MAPPPD will be its tools for model comparison. Models displayed in MAPPPD will be available through a public github repository, which can then be cloned by other scientists interested in model development. Community-developed models will then be included in MAPPPD for display and download, and new data each year will be used to evaluate the predictive performance of the models in MAPPPD. Incorporating a collection of models permits the generation of ensemble model forecasts and facilitates the study of "model uncertainty". 

The database search tools are proving popular. There is also a strong citizen science component to MAPPPD, and the website contains all the tools needed to get citizen scientists searching Google Earth for new or previously undiscovered penguin colonies. This aspect of the project has attracted significant media attention from outlets such as the BBC and Newsday, and has engaged classrooms of students as well as adults. In just the first few weeks after the launch of the citizen science component of the project, the project discovered some potentially new seabird colonies and has gained a better understanding of how emperor penguin colonies move over the years to stay in the lee of ice-bound icebergs that are drifting over time. Prof. Lynch encourages anyone interested in penguins to check out the site and join in as a penguin detective.

Contacts: Chair Bob Thacker, Graduate Program Director Stephen Baines, or
the Newsletter Editor, Jeff Levinton